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Commentary | PERSPECTIVE ON THE LOS ANGELES ZOO

Prop. CC--One for the Animals

Passage of the measure means better habitats for creatures who enlighten us about the Earth.

October 30, 1998|JANE GOODALL | Jane Goodall is founder of the Jane Goodall Institute for Wildlife Research, Education and Conservation

There was a time when I dreaded going to visit the chimpanzees in the Los Angeles Zoo. How could a sophisticated city like Los Angeles allow these wonderful chimpanzees to live in horrible concrete caves? But now, finally, the new Chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains exhibit has provided the chimpanzees with the habitat they deserve. The chimpanzees' new home, built with public bond money and private contributions, is a testament to what the Los Angeles Zoo can be. Proposition CC on the Tuesday ballot will build safer, improved habitats for other zoo animals and provide a more enriching experience for visitors.

I grew up in England and determined to go to Africa from the time when, as a young girl, I read books about Tarzan. Eventually, I saved up and set off on a great adventure to Africa that would take me, at the age of 26, to the Gombe National Park in Tanzania. Gradually, the chimpanzees who lived there became as well-known to me as members of my family. I had stepped in to a magical world.

I am older now and much has changed. Zoos have become an important part in teaching millions of people about the devastation occurring on our planet. The Los Angeles Zoo, with the opening of Chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains, reflects what awareness, understanding and caring can do to make animals' lives in zoos more humane. Today, attitudes toward animals are changing. We understand that they are like us--they have minds and they can reason and solve problems. They can feel emotions like happiness, sadness and fear. This is especially true of chimpanzees who are more like us physiologically and psychologically than any other living creature. Chimpanzees make choices when given options. You can see chimpanzees think and make facial expressions that convey their moods and feelings as they go about their daily lives. They help us realize that we humans are not as different from the rest of the animal kingdom as once we thought.

Chimpanzees are disappearing from the Earth at an alarming rate. At the turn of the century, between 1.5 million and 2 million chimps lived in 25 African countries. Today there are fewer than 100,000.

However, I believe there is hope for the future. First, we humans are at last beginning to understand the interconnectedness of all life forms, to realize that we need to live in harmony with nature and be less destructive. A good zoo is one place where people can learn about this interconnectedness.

Second, nature repeatedly proves herself to be amazingly resilient. For example, after the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, scientists predicted nothing would grow for years. In fact, the fireweed started to green the dead, ash covered slopes within months. Polluted rivers have been cleaned so that fish start to breed and water birds return. So there is hope.

Third, children, once they understand the problems and when empowered, have unending energy and dedication to preserving the Earth's natural resources. Kindergarteners to university students make up my worldwide Roots & Shoots program. The Los Angeles Zoo has joined with schools and community groups to engage and challenge children to make a difference in their own communities by participating in projects to make the world a better place for all life. L.A. Police Department Sgt. Steve Margolis, a tireless Roots & Shoots volunteer, spreads the conservation message to thousands of students.

Lastly, I have faith in the human spirit. I look at someone like Nelson Mandela, who led South Africa out of apartheid, with awe. He exemplifies how an individual can dedicate his life to a cause and succeed. We are surrounded by amazing people who tackle seemingly impossible tasks and succeed, and there are those who overcome physical disabilities and lead productive and fulfilling lives; shining examples to all of us.

Recently, I participated in the Chimpanzoo Conference hosted by the Los Angeles Zoo, where zoo Director Manuel A. Mollinedo, told me about Proposition CC and the benefits it would bring to the Los Angeles Zoo animals and the citizens of Los Angeles, especially children. With passage of this bond on Tuesday, those marvelous snakes and skinks that capture the attention of children will get a new home. Proposition CC will allow the California sea lions, who presently are kept in a fresh water environment, to live in salt water and swim adjacent to rocky cliffs just as you see along California's beautiful coast. The bonds would also enable the zoo to build a rain forest complex to showcase its South American mammals and birds in a spacious environment that would teach visitors about the devastation of rain forests. Lastly, schoolchildren often jaywalk to enter the zoo. With Proposition CC, this dangerous situation would be alleviated with renovations to the zoo entrance.

These improvements need to be accomplished at the Los Angeles Zoo so that the lives of animals and children can be further enriched. Where else can you get so much for just $1.89 a year, which is how much it will cost an average Los Angeles household if this proposition is approved by voters?

I hope that the next time I visit the Los Angeles Zoo, the reptiles, sea lions and other animals will be as happy as the chimpanzees.

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